15 September 2016

Pokémon GO to church!

A video blogger in Yekaterinburg, Ruslan Sokolovsky, is under house arrest, awaiting trial for catching Pokémons in a church and posting a video of his activity. Church representatives told the press that if he had just kept his exploits to himself, it would have been spiritually risky for him but no harm to anyone else. It was the fact that he posted the video online that required a severe response.

Church authorities charged Sokolovsky with, among other things, cynically insulting the memory of martyrs in the service of self-promotion. He now faces the possibility of up to five years in prison for insulting the feelings of believers and stirring up social hatred.

In Poltava, Ukraine, a local Orthodox priest responded to the news about Sokolovsky's arrest by announcing on his parish's Facebook page that Pokémon hunters were welcome to enter the church, as long as they don't go behind the altar. The archbishop commented that players can ask the priest to catch Pokémons hiding there.

Yes, I'm a stranger in these parts. It's a good idea to observe tact and good sense before presuming to comment on the legal issues involved, a tension and caution I also felt during the Pussy Riot controversy. After all, my American experience includes full-throated campaigns against Madonna and others perceived as insulting religion, controversies over public prayer, Nativity scenes, tablets of the Ten Commandments, and attempts to block the construction of mosques. So, as an American, I can't judge from some higher-than-thee platform.

As a member of the Body of Christ, however, I do have a voice. I do get to comment on the church demanding that this young atheist lose his freedom because he trespassed on the church's sacred territory with his game. The very fact that, thanks to his video, all this is so very public (a supposedly aggravating circumstance), gave the church's evangelists a free chance to demonstrate what grace is all about. Instead, the world sees church authorities adopting a very different priority. As one YouTube commenter wrote, "... they should hang him until he understands the essence of the forgiving and humble nature of christianity."

I can't help returning to the words of the Russian Orthodox priest, Anthony Bloom, who said (as I quoted in this earlier post), 
It seems to me -- and I'm deeply convinced of this -- that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. The Church must not be one of the powers operating in this or that government; she must be, if you like, just as powerless as God, Who does not coerce, Who only calls us and reveals the beauty and truth of things, but doesn't enforce them on us; Who, similarly to the way our consciences work, points out the truth, but leaves us free to listen to truth and beauty -- or to refuse them. It seems to me that this is how the Church should be. If the Church takes its place among those organizations that have power, that are able to force and direct events, then there will always be the risk that she would find power desirable; and as soon as the Church begins to dominate, she loses the most profound thing, the love of God, and an understanding of those who need salvation rather than the works of destruction and rebuilding.
As for the Poltava priest, one prominent Orthodox commentator here in Russia, with whom I usually agree, criticized the announcement concerning permission to hunt those creatures in the church. He said that there were actually no Pokémon hunters visiting the church, so the announcement was just "showmanship." (He might be right about the lack of activity; at the moment, I see only two creatures in Poltava, according to this map.) What I cherish about the announcement is its implicit kindness and humor and confidence.

I do not play this Pokémon GO game personally, nor do I exalt the freedom to be silly and trivial, or even insulting, in places that are precious in the minds of believers. What I want -- what I (with my puny voice) demand -- is that the church remember WHO it claims to represent in the world. In the short run, church authorities can win turf wars: they can call the police, they can unleash the rhetoric of pious outrage; they can show the young atheist who's boss. Many will cheer them on. And then, yet another beloved child of God walks away utterly confirmed in their cynicism, that much farther from the Good Shepherd's tender invitation to repent and believe the Good News.

I just rechecked the map. Now there apparently are no creatures at all in downtown Poltava. The church is safe.

(The same map site revealed ONE creature in Elektrostal.)

Christianity Today: The best way for churches to 'capitalize' on the game...play it!

UPDATE: Russian blogger jailed for receiving birthday visit from girlfriend.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., the government treats religion as just fairies, goblins, and imaginary friends.

And in the USA, Getreligion wonders why a reporter covering an outreach to Millennials in Washington, DC, didn't ask more questions.

Novels aren't necessarily political -- but they're not apolitical, either.
Is Shriver a refreshing voice of reason, calling out the anti-free-speech excesses of the literary left? Or is she just the latest novelist-provocateur whose attack on political correctness is a thinly veiled defense of her privilege?
Bringing Studs Terkel (one of my heroes in my high school years) into the 21st century, asking those "Terkelish" questions, "What do you do all day?" and "How do you feel about it?"

During my walks to the Institute and back, and on the fitness center's treadmill, I listen to a variety of podcasts, including Slate's Culture Gabfest. Just after the one-hour point on the most recent Gabfest, the program's regulars began their weekly round of "endorsements." Dana Stevens endorsed the recent addition of the Beauty Is Everywhere series by Bob Ross to the Netflix catalog. The group's comments on Bob Ross (and the brief clip they played of his familiar voice as he began a painting) brought back wonderful memories from our early years of parenting -- including a family trip to Muncie, Indiana, to meet Bob Ross in person.

More from James Harman -- not from Chicago this time but from Frederikshavn, Denmark.

No comments: